What Stace had to say on Monday, January 31st, 2011
Reviews are for Readers

You know, I don’t even really want to discuss any of the stuff that came up last week anymore. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of having my motives questioned, sick of being told I’m lying about them, sick of being told I’m a petty vindictive bitch, sick of being called a hypocrite, sick of being told I equate bad reviews with mean and thus obviously can’t handle reviews at all, sick of being yelled at for my “tone,” sick of being told I’m obviously egotistical and self-centered, sick of being referred to and treated like the Will Hays of the publishing world or something, or like I think I’m the freaking Black Gate of Mordor and you must get through me personally to be published so you better do exactly as I say, or that I told anyone they “wouldn’t get published” if they didn’t follow my advice, which is the biggest pile of bullshit. Since when is “another writer might not want to blurb you” equal to “forget about being published ever, bitches?” FFS. I was even told by one non-writer that I was making all women writers and the entire urban fantasy community look bad.

And in fact I was/am seriously considering either giving up the blog altogether or going back to what I’ve been doing the last few months, which is basically just making the blog about me personally and not really expressing any opinions at all. Because quite frankly, it’s not worth it to me (which funnily enough was the point of last week’s posts, too). Watching myself get slammed all up and down Twitter and all over the internet and finding nasty emails in my Inbox is not worth it. Being thrown into the center of some kind of huge swirling controversy simply for sharing my experience as truthfully as possible and giving a bit of advice which people are free to take or leave–advice I wish someone had given me, advice that was just meant to be helpful and friendly, something to think about, since the subject came up (publicly, not privately as some people seem to think)–isn’t worth it. I have too much going on in my life, frankly, and don’t need to be screamed at and torn apart by a bunch of people I don’t know, who don’t know me, who’ve never even heard of me before or read any of my work but who nonetheless feel qualified to call me rude/egotistical/self-centered/weak/scared/vindictive/fake/hypocritical/oversensitive/advocating dishonesty, and feel perfectly justified in doing so as loudly and as often as possible, even though my post was nothing personal, and aimed at no one in particular.

(Yes, I got some nasty emails about UNHOLY GHOSTS right before its release, too. That was quite upsetting. That was also worth it, because it was about my work; my art, and that matters deeply to me. This isn’t, and doesn’t.)

Of course, what’s happened is the perfect example of why I said “Be careful what you say because people will misinterpret it/take offense when none is intended/attribute motives to you which aren’t yours/claim you’re ‘protesting too much’ when you try to explain that no, that really wasn’t your motive.” That reaction is exactly what I meant, everyone. Go ahead and tell me again why I’m wrong to suggest caution in your online dealings unless you enjoy being attacked. I don’t mean that to be rude, I’m just pointing it out.

Anyway. I was going to give it up. And I’m still considering what I might do. But meanwhile I had this post planned, and have told people to expect it, and a few people have encouraged me to go ahead and post it, so here it is. I guess I really can’t be attacked more than I have been, or made to feel worse, or made to wonder any more what the hell I did that was so wrong that I deserved that kind of fury.

One of the most interesting comments I saw last week and throughout the weekend were the number of unpublished writers, or un-NY-published writers, talking about “helpful” reviews, and how great it can be to find reviews that give “constructive criticism.” (Those are actual quotes, btw, not me being sarcastic.) How they would never feel bad about any review because it’s all feedback and that’s so valuable and they learn from it.

And it got me thinking. What do I learn from reviews? What have I learned from my reviews?

Well…not a damn thing, to be honest.

Before you get all up in arms again, let me make a couple more things clear. I love readers. I love reviewers. I will and have stood up (many times) for the right of readers and reviewers to say whatever they like, in whatever way they like, and have said over and over that reviewers are great and I’m grateful for them, and that I wish the tension that often appears to exist between writers and readers wasn’t there. I do often read my reviews and I almost always enjoy reading them, even if the reviewer didn’t like the book.

But enjoying them and respecting them isn’t learning from them. I don’t. And here’s why.

As so many reviewers/book bloggers remind us regularly–often when some unfortunate and silly writer is having a hissy-fit meltdown over a review and thus behaving like an amateurish fool–a review is only one person’s opinion. And they’re exactly right; that’s all it is. The fact that it is only one person’s opinion means that many times there are contradictory opinions. For every reader who dislikes Chess, for example, there are many who love her. For every reader who finds her drug use distasteful, there are many who like it and feel it suits her character. For every reader who dislikes Downspeech, there are many who love it. For every reader who simply doesn’t like my voice, there are many who do. I’ve gotten reviews that loved parts of my books which I thought were the weakest. I’ve gotten reviews which weren’t crazy about the parts of which I was most proud.

Then there are the reviews which are frankly kind of screwball-y. Again, people have every right to post them. Their opinion is their opinion, and more power to them. But when the reviewer is furious because the word “god” isn’t capitalized in my totally atheistic world, or when the reviewer thinks I’m being prejudiced because rich people don’t use Downspeech so clearly I’m belittling the poor, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to learn anything from that, or even think about it.

Think about some of the reviews you’ve seen, whether for your work or someone else’s; haven’t you seen some occasionally where you just kind of wonder what book the reviewer read, or can’t understand why they would feel the way they do, don’t understand why they even read the book if they have such a visceral hatred for a major plot element/character trait/whatever, or the review is based on some sort of specific prejudice? Like, let’s say, a reviewer who hated TWILIGHT (I’m picking that because everyone knows what it is, not because I love it or hate it) because Bella’s father is a cop and all cops are scum. Or who hates Shakespeare’s plays because everyone talks funny. Or who hated THE DA VINCI CODE (again, an example with which people will be familiar; I’ve never read it) because they don’t like men named Robert (which is the MC’s name, right?), or who didn’t understand at all why Scout even cared about Tom Robinson’s trial in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or why it was such a big damn deal. Or any other sort of comment; a long time ago (I think it’s in one of the posts I linked up there) I mentioned a review Anna J. Evans and I got for our X-rated erotic romance DEMON’S TRIAD, and how the reviewer gave the book a very low score because there were f/f scenes and the plot had some extreme elements, when the fact that the book contained f/f scenes and that it “contained extreme story elements and was not for the faint of heart” was right there in the blurb, complete with a warning.

Yes, some reviews really are that arbitrary. I’m not making it up. And again, though I’m honestly getting sick of typing this over and over again, they have every right to be arbitrary and to shout their opinion from the rooftops. I’m not complaining, I’m just offering some examples.

That doesn’t mean I have to hear it and change my work because of it. Everyone is free to have an opinion; that doesn’t mean others have to agree (which is one reason why the reaction I got–the absolute rage in some of those comments/posts/emails–was such a shock to me. Why does my opinion and experience effect you so much? Just disagree and move on. It’s not like I’m advocating apartheid or suggesting we kill all the puppies or something; there’s really no need to get angry, is there?).

Aspiring writers involved in the query process often express frustration that agents/editors won’t give feedback when they reject them. Many of those agents and editors don’t do so because they don’t have time, or fear reprisals in the form of nasty emails. But they also don’t do it because it’s just their opinion, and they know very well that another agent/editor may feel differently. UNHOLY GHOSTS was given a revise-and-resubmit on the full by an agent I like and admire very much; that of course had some detailed feedback. I set his email aside because I was still querying (I knew that agent personally, and so had queried him before I “officially” started querying) and guess what? My own agent signed me two days after I queried him, and he liked the things the other agent hadn’t liked so much, and the book sold, and I’ve been lucky enough to get almost universally positive, enthusiastic reviews; the kinds of reviews writers dream about, frankly. Had I listened to that one agent and changed my book, it’s still possible he would have rejected it. My own agent probably wouldn’t be my agent, and the book might not have sold, or people might not have loved it so much. (That’s not to say the agent’s advice was bad, not at all, just that tastes and opinions differ.) It might have all still happened, sure, but there are no guarantees.

You cannot please everyone. If you try, you’ll go crazy. If you try to change your work based on every review you get, you’ll end up not pleasing anyone, especially not yourself.

Then there’s the simple fact that a review is written about an already-finished book. What am I supposed to do, ask my publishers to recall the book so I can fix something? That book is done, and the new book either doesn’t have anything to do with it, or does–if it’s a series–and to take that review into account would mean doing something unplanned or out-of-character or whatever. There have been some reviewers who dislike Chess’s addiction, for example. Were I to decide I needed to “learn from” those reviews and not write the addiction anymore, Chess would suddenly be clean in book 4 with no explanation or with very little explanation, which would be frankly silly.

Which brings me to one of the biggest points. Chess is an addict because she is, period. Her addiction is part of her character, and her character is one I needed to write. It’s not a gimmick or a ploy to get attention. If I take it away from her to please people, I’m not writing her the way I want and need to write her, the way I see her, the way she is. I’m not being honest, and I’m not being truthful. I’m pandering. I’m selling out. I’m giving up any claims to artistic integrity.

Every book we write should be a book we want or need to write. (And I am going to do a post about “write what you know” soon, too.) Every book we write should have some depth, should be important to us, should be an expression of something within ourselves. I firmly believe that if you don’t care about the book or characters, if you’re just tossing words on a page for cash, readers will know it/sense it.

So if I’m changing what I feel strongly about in order to make Annie at Reviews Plus (I just made that up, FYI) happy, I’m stifling myself creatively. I’m doing myself a disservice. More importantly, I’m doing my story a disservice. I’m doing my characters a disservice. I’m not telling the story the way I need to tell it; I’m not telling MY story or my characters’ story, and I’m not letting them actually be themselves. I’m letting someone else dictate my story to me; I’m letting someone else have control over my work, my art.

Perhaps it’s different when you don’t really get reviews; I can see any and every bit of feedback being important in that case. Most mmps in my genre–urban fantasy–seem to end up with anywhere from 100-200 reviews; to date the Downside books collectively are probably close to a thousand. That’s a lot of reviews, obviously. I’m crazy teary glad for all of them, but I’m not learning from them; I haven’t even read all of them. I honestly don’t remember ever learning something from a review, but I do remember being epublished and not getting very many reviews at all. I remember being unpublished and eager for any feedback I could get, and wanting that feedback so I could go into my book and improve it (critique and reviews are two different things). But again, that’s on an unpublished book, and that’s when you solicit the feedback, and that’s when you know and trust the person giving it, and that’s when you’re learning.

I’m still learning, of course. Every writer is still learning. But I learn from myself, from my editor/agent/writer friends, or from reading other books. I notice a weak sentence and fix it. I feel I didn’t do as well as I could have on that plot point or whatever, and resolve to do better in future. I notice what a lovely turn of phrase Writer A has, and it inspires me to try something different in my own work.

I get plenty of feedback. My BFF Cori reads all of my books, as I’ve said before. Cori is someone I love and trust, and Cori understands me and instinctively knows what I’m trying to do, and she will tell me how close I am to it. My critique partner pretty much since I started writing is Stacey Jay; while we no longer really critique for each other, we do still beta-read when we have time/the chance. My friend Caitlin Kittredge beta-reads for me sometimes. So does my friend Mark Henry. There are a few other writers I’ve beta read for in the past, and who have beta read for me. There are a few readers I’ve sent this or that to, to get an opinion.

Then, of course, there’s my agent and my editor, and the several rounds of edits most books go through before publication. So that’s a lot of feedback. That’s a lot of advice/opinions. The ultimate decision is mine, yes, but I get plenty of other eyes in there. I adjust accordingly, based on whether or not I agree with those opinions. By the time the book is published, I’ve made it as good as I think I possibly can (remember, I was so unhappy with CITY OF GHOSTS that I asked my editor if I could rewrite it two or three months after we’d finished edits and she’d accepted it; she said okay, and I cut 20,000 words and added 30k in two weeks). It wouldn’t be released if I didn’t think it was.

And by the time a book is released, I’ve moved on. I wrote UNHOLY GHOSTS from October to December 2007. It was released in May 2010. That’s not unusual (I was unagented when I wrote it, so getting an agent–I love my agent–and doing his edits, and then six weeks on submission, and then the time it took for editing etc. there, and then the decision to set publication back six months so we could do the three-in-a-row release schedule). I remember the book, of course. I love the book, of course. But I’m no longer in the book, if you know what I mean. In my head, Chess is now where she is at the end of Book 4/beginning of Book 5, not where she was in the beginning of UNHOLY GHOSTS. By the time a book is released, I’ve probably written a few others and consider myself further along, so I’m being reviewed on something I did several years ago which I may feel doesn’t reflect my best work already anyway, and I may feel I’m better now (always learning/growing), so taking advice from/learning from that review would be essentially pointless.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for each and every review I get, and always have been. Each and every one of them thrills me, cheers me, amuses me, whatever. I love reviews and I love reviewers. But I don’t learn from them, and I don’t read them for or expect them to give me constructive criticism.

And here’s the last reason for that: reviews are for readers, not writers. Reviews are not written with an eye toward helping me improve as a writer. Nor are they intended to do so, nor should they be. If someone has a specific complaint or suggestion for me about my books that they feel I need to see, they email it to me. They post reviews on their blogs to share their opinions with other readers, and that’s it.

I’m aware of several readers/reader blogs who frown on authors showing up there at all. Many reviewers dislike having authors comment on their own reviews, no matter how friendly, fair, and/or grateful the author is. Not because the reviewer is some kind of jerk, but because they wrote to share their opinion with other readers, not as some sort of tipsheet for the writer, and they feel their conversation with other readers is just that: a conversation with readers, and the writer’s presence is stifling that conversation. As I’ve said numerous times, there’s a reason why I don’t visit the Goodreads and Shelfari groups readers set up for the Downside books, and that reason is because I want those readers to feel free to speak openly without worrying what I might think, or that they’ll upset me, or even just that I’m there looking over their shoulders. I know they’re there–I was told about them–and I linked to them on the site in case other readers want to join in, but they’re not for me so I stay away.

When someone buys my book and reads it and reviews it, they’re reviewing it to let other readers know what they thought. That’s it. Many writers don’t even read their reviews; I don’t read bad ones, really (and luckily I’ve gotten very, very few of those).

To imply that reviews are/should be “constructive” is to imply that reviews are written for writers, thus treating readers as sort of unimportant, or as if they exist solely to please the writer, or as though they have a responsibility to do so/provide the writer with some sort of ego boost or suggestions to improve. They are not. Readers are readers; they don’t owe me shit. Reviews can be anything the reviewer wants them to be, from a six-page essay to a simple “This book sucks/rocks.” Readers/reviewers have no obligation to me, or to be “constructive,” to take my feelings into account, to help me become a better writer. Reviews are by readers, for readers. The world is not set up for me or to further my career, and that applies to all of us.

Sure, there may well be some reviewers out there who review because they want to help the writer(s). I’m just not aware of any. And I believe my work needs to be mine, and that while I certainly want very much to please my readers–that’s my goal in everything I write, it’s something I think about constantly, how much I want to please them, entertain them, and make them feel like they’re getting something really, really worth their time and money–I can’t let that stop me from telling the story I need to tell, or change my story because I know they won’t like something, or change my voice because they dislike my use of profanity, or write more sex because they want it or less sex because they don’t like sex scenes, or whatever else. And I can’t tell readers and reviewers that they have any kind of obligation to give me feedback, or be “constructive,” or anything else.

Because they don’t. Their job is to share their opinion, not to teach me. And my job is to write the best book I can.

46 comments to “Reviews are for Readers”

  1. tori aka ggs_closet
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    1
    · January 31st, 2011 at 1:33 pm · Link

    I think you should state your opinion as much and as loud as you want. :)

    I can honestly say that I have never written a review where I thought, “how can I help the writer write better with this review?” But then, I have also never written an author telling them I didn’t like their book or parts of their book.

    People are so weird and narcissistic sometimes. Why can’t they just read the book and stop trying to find hidden meanings. Sometimes a book is just that. A book.



  2. Karen Tavares
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 1:37 pm · Link

    Well said, Stacia! I wrote about this on my blog too. I get that opinions are opinions and review are for readers but I still think reviews that attack authors personally, such as yourself, are pointless. If I read “She’s dumb,” in a review all it accomplishes to do is irritate the he’ll out of me. Personally i think you rock, your books as well! So keep doing your thing ; )



  3. Zerlina
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 1:39 pm · Link

    I think it would be a shame if you let yourself be silenced by people who hate anyone expressing an opinion that isnt theirs. Your thoughts, opinions and feelings about anything are your own and in sharing them you are sharing a part of your thought process and each persons mileage may vary.
    Sadly some people are never happy unless they can beat someone down for having any kind of opinion that isnt their own.
    Be true to you and do what feels right for you, but really the ones who have the most negative things to say really should look at their own motives and need to be the thought police before they decide to beat down someone else for having an honest opinion they chose to share in a public forum.



  4. Diana Pharaoh Francis
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 1:40 pm · Link

    Well said.



  5. Spaz P
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 1:56 pm · Link

    I am a reader and sometimes reviewer and I love how you express yourself. I was really shocked at some people’s reactions over your post last week, and disheartened for you. It takes courage to put yourself out there, and to put your opinions out there. It would be a shame if you stopped. We love hearing you!



  6. KB/KT Grant
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 2:38 pm · Link

    There will always be those who will criticize and think it’s their way or none at all.

    Write what you like, do what makes you happy and don’t feel you have to answer to anyone but yourself.



  7. Jon Sprunk
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 2:47 pm · Link

    Kudos to you, Stacia. Keep posting.



  8. Jessa Slade
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 3:59 pm · Link

    I’m a lurker here, but I have learned from you. I agree with most of what you’ve written, and where I don’t agree, I still learn. So I hope you keep posting.

    Also, having “the Black Gate of Mordor” on your name badge at the next writer con would be super-fun.



  9. blodeuedd
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 4:03 pm · Link

    Great post, I had to come and take a look.
    Don’t let anyone silence you.

    I do review, and I tend to get a bit scared when authors drop by cos I do write for readers (and I am afraid to get yelled at if I do not like a book.) I write what I liked and did not like. Not advice on how to change things, that is so not me, or what i want to read in reviews either. You are so right.

    I do confess that I did not fall as much as I wanted for your books, but I still thought the world and creations were amazing. Never seen UF like that, keep up the good work



  10. Inspector Librarian
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    10
    · January 31st, 2011 at 4:31 pm · Link

    It definitely sucks when you have so much nonsense dumped on you at once. But if anyone needs an internet time-out it’s the people giving you grief.

    It’s pretty ridiculous to think you have the time, energy, or inclination to somehow write a book that will suit everyone’s needs. I mean… You’re a writer. It’s not your job to write someone else’s stories or even to promote them if you don’t want to. It’s your job to write your stories and to share those with other people.

    I have yet to read your books, but I have been meaning to and I for one hope you don’t let stupidity on the internet prevent you from making awesome posts like this one!



  11. Allie (reader not a writer)
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 4:31 pm · Link

    I am so sorry you got so many negative responses to the well-meaning and informed advice that you offered, to help people who would like to be in the position that you are. Sigh. It was ADVICE ffs – not a binding contract one entered into simply by reading the blog post.

    PLEASE don’t dumb down your posts – people who follow your blog (like me!) like what you write.

    Last night my son asked for my help with his maths homework. After a couple of minutes of trying to explain to him, starting from the beginning, he started getting snippy, not listening and bemoaning that he ‘knew’ this part and basically just wanting the answer.

    After a full day at work , ten minutes of this was all I could take before snapping back that, actually, he didn’t *know* because he didn’t have the right answer and his underlying knowledge was fundamentally flawed. I already have my qualifications, I have done it, I *know* the answer and I could think of a hundred other things I could be doing at that moment in time rather than getting shouted at by a teenager, who despite protesting that he wanted help was completely unwilling to listen to the help I was giving him.

    I can’t help but see the parallels and I wonder how many of the responses last week were typed complete with pouty lip…

    As for reviews, I completely agree with you. I rarely leave reviews on Amazon – typically only when I have an extreme love/hate reaction, but often wonder if others have read the same book that I did. I do, however, aim them at other readers as this is how I choose my books. I have been burned a few times lately by a favourite writer pushing their friends books on their site/blog and now stick soley to peer recommendation as I felt my loyalty to the author in question was being ‘used’. This is unfortunate because I discovered the Downside books because of a recommendation by a different author.

    Oh, and as a reader, it *is* obvious when a writer is just churning out the books like a production line. It may tick all of the boxes but there is something missing – kind of like when someone smiles but it doesn’t extend to their eyes.



  12. Fallon Blake
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 4:35 pm · Link

    Don’t you dare stop posting. I don’t comment like I should, but I have learned a tremendous amount from you. And I have to say that this post is timely for me. As a baby writer, it’s so easy to read a review then hear that nasty voice of doubt when I open my next WIP. Hearing more experienced authors speak out about these types of things really grounds me. So thank you!



  13. Rebecca James
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 5:12 pm · Link

    I hope you don’t stop blogging, Stacia (or change your blogging style in any way!). I don’t comment often but I’ve been reading your blog for years – way before I got published – and have always admired your bravery and generosity and thoughtfulness and kindness and most of all, your intelligence.

    People suck sometimes…and the internet, fantastic as it is, can sometimes feel like a playground full of vicious bullies – but I’m quite certain you’ve got a lot of ‘quiet’ admirers out there! x



  14. Patti Williams
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 5:40 pm · Link

    I have just read the first book in the Ghost series. I loved it and am looking forward to the next book. Please don’t stop blogging! Maybe the people who don’t like Chess or her drug addiction should choose another author and genre to read. Read what the book is about and if it is goling to offend you, buy another book. ➡



  15. Amy @ My Friend Amy
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 6:10 pm · Link

    I think you gave some good advice that was hard to hear last week. It certainly made me think a lot about the nature of reviews, recommendations, etc.

    And this was a great post, too. I have seen authors say they learn from reviews before, but I don’t know many reviewers who feel it’s their job to instruct the author.



  16. Ciar Cullen
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 6:17 pm · Link

    Well, for once I actually missed a kerfuffle, too busy with real life. So whatever you did or didn’t say was lost on me. But I read this post with great interest, because I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to write (for years actually) as opposed to what I do write. And I think I have included reviews on the balance sheet.

    I don’t mean my benign reviewer “pals” who are likely to say “yay, good job again.” I agree with your points that reviews are for readers, and you have to write what you have to write. Period. But I found one reviewer–one–in all these years, that somehow managed to always land right in my gut, every time. I’ve learned from her. And it’s Mrs. Giggles–the much maligned maligner. I’m not with a big NY house so I’m not going to get huge notice. But for whatever reason, this one reviewer has rated every book of mine exactly as I would. She likes the non-romance parts of my books more than the romance. And that is because she knows when I’m being authentic–it shows, and she notices when it does and when it doesn’t. So, no, she hasn’t really told me anything I didn’t already know, but she’s confirmed for me that when I write what I want to write, it works better than when I don’t. I personally think you can have AHA! moments when you read reviews of your own books–if you know where to look. If you don’t, you’re almost better off just ignoring them. I really believe that. Good and bad. One person’s opinion. I recently got a review for an otherwise praised book that said “it was all about romance.” Well, it was a romance. We’ve all had those ridiculous reviews. I don’t expect everyone to like my writing. I’m surprised when someone does. But I now expect MYSELF to like it. Cause life is terribly short, and why would I bother otherwise? At least I’ll be able to say I had one fan.



  17. Gwen
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 6:31 pm · Link

    Please don’t give up on us Stacia. There are a lot of us cheering in your corner! I know you have a million other things to do other than write a blog that seems like more trouble than it’s worth right now but there are people out there who appreciate you and your opinions!



  18. Ciar Cullen
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    18
    · January 31st, 2011 at 6:37 pm · Link

    Oh, yeah, sorry, meant to say this post was thought-provoking for me, so I benefited from it. Do what you want. Blog or don’t blog. It’s YOUR time and your choice.



  19. Karen
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    · January 31st, 2011 at 6:39 pm · Link

    I usually just lurk and just read your posts. They are intelligent, expressive and interesting – and as a SAHM, reading blogs is about as close as I get to intelligent conversation some days. Unfortunately, when you put yourself out there, you’re going to get slammed by someone (or apparently a lot of someones) who don’t agree with you. Don’t let them get to you and don’t let them stop you from speaking your mind. You have a gift, Stacia. Words are your gift. And I, for one, appreciate it. Keep on blogging.



  20. Michele Lee
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    20
    · January 31st, 2011 at 6:52 pm · Link

    I really really resent the growing idea that readers are critiquers. I think the rise of Amazon self-publishing is making it worse, with people slapping stories up, and a few months later revising it due to feed back they got then “updating” the version. It’s disrespectful to readers, especially paying ones, and reviewers are readers.

    Most of my most negative reviews come from books that were so bad that I was offended for the reader that someone would charge for the book in the state it was in. It isn’t just about writing quality, but also horrible typos and formatting (in one book I counted 22 mistakes on one page.)



    • Zoe Winters
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      20.1
      · January 31st, 2011 at 9:49 pm · Link

      ooh I’m not sure if you meant this how I took it, but… if you did, totally agree. Actually I can think of a couple of different things you could mean and agree with both/either of them.

      1. When you upload crap to get feedback and then re-upload, you are cheating readers who are paying good money for the crappy version.

      2. When you edit, especially significantly, a book you’ve already put out due to reader feedback, it’s a betrayal in a sense to the readers who already bought it and loved the first version. And if you’re writing a series… which version is “Canon”? A lot of fans get very worked up about canon. What’s actually part of the story and what’s not, sometimes down to fairly small details. Revising already published work willy-nilly, to me feels like a betrayal in more than one way.



      • Michele Lee
        Comment
        20.1.1
        · February 1st, 2011 at 6:07 pm · Link

        1. Exactly!
        2. Absolutely!

        I saw a certain prominent NY published author turned self-published author mentioning on a blog that they didn’t need editors or “gatekeepers” because the readers were the gatekeepers with Amazon.com/self-publishing. I’ve seen this from the beginning of my career (and even know of a few small presses that refuse to ever send out review copies because they want everyone to pay for the privilege of reading, even if the agreement is free promo in return.) And it seems like more and more I’m running into works that aren’t even ready to be viewed by others on a base level. Oh, I can show you such horrible books I’ve had sent to me! One even had an author’s note at the beginning that said (and I quote, because I will NEVER forget these words) “Oh, and this book is self published, so there will be typos. Oh yes, there will be typos. Think of them as easter eggs. Happy hunting!”

        I find that horribly disrespectful to readers to expect them to PAY to read work you KNOW is flawed and filled with typos and formatting errors. There are so many writers out there who work hard to make their work the best they can, then still struggle with the idea that’s it’s not good enough for me to have any good thoughts of people who put out first drafts and plan to revise them as they get reader feedback.

        Readers are not your editors!

        Also, I want to note that my own novella was edited and re-released, but that’s because it was originally formatted for digital reading by a third party who said that it was impossible to put the illustrations in the file (among other things). Last year it was reformatted to clean up the formatting and to add the illustrations. There was not change at all to the actual text. Which is completely different from what I’m getting all ranty about.



      • Zoe Winters
        Comment
        20.1.2
        · February 1st, 2011 at 9:06 pm · Link

        @Michele

        eeek @ the Easter egg thing. One of my readers is about to become one of my beta readers because she has an amazing ability to catch things no one else caught. (Though a couple things are my fault because when I was putting in last minute fixes, I introduced a couple of gremlins, ugh.)

        Anyway, I’m about to have to upload a new digital version of my latest release, but I did my very best to have it as pristine as possible before release. And I HATE HATE HATE finding errors later, after it’s out there.

        I think indies especially have a responsibility to work very hard to have cleanly-edited work because we get judged so harshly for errors. (like we didn’t care or whatever. Sort of like the implication is from the note you mentioned.)



  21. Geekamicus
    Comment
    21
    · January 31st, 2011 at 6:56 pm · Link

    I have enjoyed the honesty and insight of your posts. Don’t stop blogging just because some anonymous people have decided to vent the proverbial spleen.

    I owned a retail store for many years (or maybe it only seemed like many) and people can say some terrible things because they think you are entitled to hear them (and as we know, retail is the root of all evil and you should always go off on the person behind the counter). I finally decided that someone’s opinion can only hurt me if I know and respect that person, otherwise I just don’t care. Yes, I will respect valid points and may very well give them considered thought, but if someone just says awful things because he/she thinks I don’t deserve respect because I’m a stranger, then that opinion means less to me than my feelings mean to the speaker. It’s really hard to not take things personally, even if you are a firm believer in “love is love, but business is business,” but the respect with which an opinion was tendered has become my demarcation line between ulcers and peace.



  22. Chelsea / Vampire Book Club
    Comment
    22
    · January 31st, 2011 at 7:38 pm · Link

    You cannot please everyone. If you try, you’ll go crazy. If you try to change your work based on every review you get, you’ll end up not pleasing anyone, especially not yourself.

    EXACTLY!

    I write reviews for two main reasons: First, to help other readers. The point is to help people decide if the book is right for them. When I’m listing things that worked or didn’t work for me, I’m doing it with readers in mind. (Occasionally an author may mistake this as directed at him/her. My thoughts are elsewhere, though.)

    Second, and I never really mention this, but it is also about me. It’s a way for me to mentally process what I’ve read. I can usually better appreciate the really good books through reflection. So, in that regard, it’s about me.

    But when it comes down to the book, the fact is each reader is going to take away something slightly different depending on his or her background. They may read too much into certain parts, some things may go over their heads, etc. To suggest that you control that or that you’re a jerk for not making a big deal out of one person’s opinion is just silly. It’s a subjective art — and not one you should be reactive to when reviews start rolling in.



  23. Zoe Winters
    Comment
    23
    · January 31st, 2011 at 9:41 pm · Link

    I find it baffling why your posts caused such controversy in the first place. It’s a bad day when common sense is controversial.

    Your posts were very helpful to me as I’m in a very similar mental zone right now with regards to what I should say, what I shouldn’t say, etc.

    And great post here, too. I totally agree about not learning anything from reviews. What I learn from a review is what Reader A or B thinks about my book. And that’s great as far as it goes. But they aren’t my writing instructors. If they seriously dislike the way I handle stories/characters or my voice/style, they’d probably be happier reading a different author. Because writing is about “self-expression” like all other forms of art. I’m not making widgets, here.

    Usually, I know going in some of the things in my books some people are going to have an issue with. (And sometimes I’m caught totally off guard.) But in general I pretty much know certain things are going to push certain buttons for certain people, but like you say, you can’t please everyone. It would be one thing if everybody had the exact same feedback… even then I probably wouldn’t change it if that’s what the story/characters are and are supposed to be… but it’s all completely contradictory:

    Not enough sex
    too much sex
    I love this character
    I hate this character
    I thought that plot point was brilliant
    I thought that plot point was stupid.

    So you just shrug and move on. And I agree, I stay off GoodReads and any other forum/place meant for readers. I used to reply to positive reviews on blogs just to say thanks, but like you, I’ve come to think of it as a space for readers and not somewhere I’m welcome. Not because readers are “mean” or anything, but before the Internet readers could get together and discuss a book without worrying about the author showing up.

    There are author/reader events and then there are reader-only zones. So I try to avoid going to reader-only zones because that stuff isn’t for me. I assume if a reader wants me to know what they thought of my book they’ll email me, or comment on my blog, twitter, facebook, whatever.

    Sorry that was a novel.

    And I hope you don’t stop blogging.



  24. Carolyn Crane
    Comment
    24
    · January 31st, 2011 at 10:18 pm · Link

    Stacia, I know you are writing these blog posts with so much goodwill in your heart, and clearly with the intention of helping people who might not have thought this through or experienced the things you have. I’m so sorry all this shitstorm happened! I love your posts and your honesty, and I think I would’ve loved them even more if I’d found them when I was first entering publishing.



  25. Lisa S.
    Comment
    25
    · January 31st, 2011 at 10:46 pm · Link

    Oh Stacia, I neither write nor review but I love to read! And what I like to read are your books (along with a select few others)
    The internet is a wonderful and awful place where people will bully and rant and threaten because they think digital anonymity gives them the right to be ranting, bullying, threatening self righteous pricks. And if by chance they do let you know exactly who they are, they still think you won’t “see” them. Kinda like picking one’s nose in the car, one thinks that no one can see through all that glass around themselves.
    Keep being your honest, lovely self and don’t let the bastards get you down. After all you ARE in the right and they just can’t deal…….



  26. Betsy Dornbusch
    Comment
    26
    · February 1st, 2011 at 12:21 am · Link

    I just want to give you a hug. I’m so not the hugging type.

    Okay, so maybe a large vodka cranberry with lots of ice and more vodka on the way…

    And a Snuggie. A blue one. That seems to cure my daughter’s ills.

    Fuck ’em, hon, and keep doing what you do.



  27. Layla Messner
    Comment
    27
    · February 1st, 2011 at 1:26 am · Link

    Hey Stacia,
    I think I’m repeating myself, but I just wanted to add another voice to the thumbs uppers (hopefully to drown out those who got all bent out of shape). As an aspiring author, I was really grateful for your “being published changes everything post.” Thanks again :).

    Oh, and I loved this one too. Some people seem to have the idea that if you’re a writer you should listen to absolutely any criticism and take it…not to heart, because heaven forbid you get emotional about it, but you should take it in stride and run off to learn and grow from it and, in general, do what it says. And if you don’t you’re arrogant and immature and a bad writer. Which is not only silly, but probably a good way to drive yourself insane.



  28. Aniko
    Comment
    28
    · February 1st, 2011 at 3:58 am · Link

    Hi Stacia, you have as much right to state your opinion as anybody else (including those who have so vindictively attacked you for doing so – talk about hypocrites!). Personally, I think everything you’ve talked about has made perfect sense and is completely reasonable. If you want to be a reviewer, be a reviewer. If you want to be a writer, be aware that negative articles you’ve written about an established writer is going to have an impact, especially if you’re then going to approach that writer for help in your own career (woulda thought that’d be kind of obvious!). Some people are going to give you grief no matter what stance you take, just because your opinion is different to theirs. They are only capable of seeing things from their side and not able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Don’t let them get to you, it’s not worth it (and neither are they):)



  29. Leyna
    Comment
    29
    · February 1st, 2011 at 6:00 am · Link

    Stacia, you are awesome! fuck em.



  30. Zanthera
    Comment
    30
    · February 1st, 2011 at 8:10 am · Link

    Wow. Mindless drooling moronic baboons don’t come at you one at a time they come in swarms like a hive of wasps!

    Lemme go find you a really big fly swatter.



  31. Jen
    Comment
    31
    · February 1st, 2011 at 11:00 am · Link

    I was/am shocked by the response your post last week received all across the internet. It would be a loss to the blog community if chose to quit blogging. I’ve only recently began following your blog (a few months ago) and I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, especially the Tacktastic Christmas Tree! It’s refreshing to read honest opinions, and much appreciated.



  32. Ann Kopchik
    Comment
    32
    · February 1st, 2011 at 11:09 am · Link

    Stacia,

    I think your series of posts has been wonderful and informative.

    Last year, I took a course taught by Nicole Peeler as part of the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill and this is exactly the stuff she covered: how things change when you become published. How you might want to present yourself on the Internet. How to write formal book reviews (and the difference between those and Goodreads/Amazon reviews). The pitfalls of reviewing books as an author… we talked about all of it.

    Authors: Listen to Stacia. She speaks from experience and that is worth its weight in gold. It’s always good to be forewarned.



    • Stace
      Comment
      32.1
      · February 1st, 2011 at 1:10 pm · Link

      Oh, you can’t listen to a word Nicole says. I heard she faked all of her credentials and only got that job because she blackmailed one of the higher-ups. *shrug*

      (Just kidding of course, Nicole is a friend of mine and collects degrees like normal people collect…well, whatever they collect. :))



  33. Amanda S
    Comment
    33
    · February 1st, 2011 at 1:04 pm · Link

    Ok..Love the books, Love the blog, Love the characters…etc. I really dont get negative people. I just feel like..why are they even wasting your/our time with stupid shit?! If they didn’t enjoy the 1st book why get the 2nd or 3rd or even read your blog? I love that I can connect with my favorite authors on the internet but lately I see alot of them getting bashed for how they blog or what they blog about. Sometimes I wonder what people do with all of their time..do the negative ones sit around trying to come up with witty bashing to get attention because their lives are so miserable and empty that they can only feel happiness when they’re hurting people?
    I’ve had some in my life that are like this these are the real vampires…they suck the life right out of you. In the past 3 years I have made it a point to get rid of these people and only surrond myself with positive ones. Even reading the posts last week I walked away feeling kind of drained so I can imagine the anger, hurt, and fuckery that you must have been feeling.
    Keep your head up…Keep the blogs and books coming, and don’t sweat the haters 😉



  34. midnightblooms
    Comment
    34
    · February 1st, 2011 at 1:43 pm · Link

    Stacia,
    I’ve haven’t commented on this discussion until now because I’ve had no input beyond “I agree. Professional behavior is professional, and unprofessional behavior is unprofessional. Also, why would anyone want the support of someone who doesn’t like their work?”

    I’m also glad I missed the Internet fury barf that erupted over you daring to express this (apparently unheard of and outrageous) opinion, and I’m so sorry to hear that you were attacked. Please don’t let trolls drive you to quit blogging. Add me to the column of those who hope you keep at it.

    I started following you because you are one of the voices who understands that, while writing is art and craft, it is also a business. While I may not always agree with you, I’ve always found your opinions and suggestions about writing and publishing to be practical, thoughtful, and intelligent (and snarky, and funny). These last series of posts is no different.

    *hugs*



  35. Robin
    Comment
    35
    · February 1st, 2011 at 2:52 pm · Link

    You can’t quit blogging, I just discovered you. Read all the posts and just can’t believe why so many people got their panties in a twist. You made some very good points and as a reader/reviewer and aspiring writer, have a few things to think about. Looking forward to reading Unholy Ghosts.



  36. Jacquie
    Comment
    36
    · February 1st, 2011 at 3:53 pm · Link

    Normally I just lurk around your blog and love it but I felt compelled to comment. I just can’t believe that people are so upset over common sense, you are an author – writing is your job. Therefore as one commenter said ‘you don’t shit where you eat’. I just can’t understand what is so hard to get about that 😕
    As for the review thing I have a little blog where I put up reviews for readers, I would never assume that an author is going to read my opinion for advice. I don’t write the reviews for that reason at all, I write them so maybe I can help someone else pick a great book to read. No I have not reviewed any of your books there which doesn’t mean I don’t love your books – I soo do and push them like crack to all my reader friends, but if I did then it would be to get people to read the books not so you would take witing advice from me. Hello you have the contract and are published!!!
    Anyways keep on blogging cuz you are smart, funny, snarky and don’t let the crap stop you from things you enjoy 😉



  37. Debra D.
    Comment
    37
    · February 1st, 2011 at 3:56 pm · Link

    Great post, Stacia! Whatever you do, don’t stop blogging!

    As a soon-to-be-published writer, I can see both sides of this debate, I really can (though I’m leaning heavily toward the no-bad-reviews side), but I honestly don’t see why some people can’t disagree without acting vile. Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean it’s okay to send hate mail or question his or her integrity.

    Sorry for your crappy last week–hope this week brings a big improvement!



  38. Jennifer Lane
    Comment
    38
    · February 2nd, 2011 at 10:34 am · Link

    I’ve been well versed in not responding to negative reviews, but I think that’s excellent advice for authors to avoid commenting on reader reviews in any capacity, lest the readers feel like the author’s peering over their shoulder, leaving them unable to leave an honest review. Thanks for the well-written post.



    • Tara
      Comment
      38.1
      · February 4th, 2011 at 12:55 pm · Link

      Add me to the Go, Stacia! club. As a fan-girl/reader, I adore your voice, love that how you write Chess is real and honest, how she (and her addiction) just makes sense. As a hopeful writer, I truly value the fact that you so openly share your experiences. Not many people will tell you how it is and you do. Unabashed and real. It’s appreciated beyond words.



  39. Mel
    Comment
    39
    · February 6th, 2011 at 7:04 pm · Link

    I actually found your blog here and have bookmarked it because someone, I can’t remember who, linked to your post on piracy and then I read your ‘Being Published Changes Everything’ post. I really think that these kinds of posts are extremely valuable for aspiring writers like me, because you’re talking about things that authors don’t often blog about.



    • Stace
      Comment
      39.1
      · February 6th, 2011 at 7:39 pm · Link

      Thanks, Mel. That’s the whole reason why I do them, is to try to help. No one ever told me this stuff, and I wish they had so I’d have been more prepared.



  40. Cathy/greytfriend
    Comment
    40
    · February 7th, 2011 at 3:03 pm · Link

    Please keep blogging, as much as you desire and have the energy to handle. As I said on Twitter, I understand if you need to pull back. It takes a lot of time and energy even without a firestorm of insanity. And you do have other things to do! But I love your thoughtful columns and I think your advice and stories about your experiences can really help aspiring and established writers.

    Also, remeber that you’re in very good company. Among others, think about the crap that J.K. Rowling got for her books, especially the later ones. Protests, book bannings, parents saying how dare she write something so dark and sad, little Timmy (age 6) is scared for life (from reading a book intended for teenagers). Craziness! She insisted that she wrote the story that she wanted and needed to tell. People can decide to read or not, parents can and should decide what’s appropriate for their own children. But they have no right to tell the author what to write or to try to stop other people from choosing to read a book.

    I’ll never understand the hostility and anger generated by your posts or by readers who don’t like a book. Get into the discussion if you want, but why make it so personal? It’s a reflection on the manners and social skills of the attackers, not you. I’m sorry you got hurt by what happened. Please, just delete the hate mail, don’t read or respond to anyone who isn’t civil, and try to have fun with the people who are interested in honest debate and discussion. And keep writing just what you want and need to write!



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